Pompeo meets Afghan political rivals during visit to Kabul
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[March 23, 2020]
By Humeyra Pamuk
KABUL (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State
Mike Pompeo arrived in the Afghan capital on Monday on a previously
unannounced visit to try to salvage a historic deal between Washington
and the Taliban, struck in February but marred by a political feud.
Pompeo visited Afghan President Ashraf Ghani at his palace before
meeting his political rival Abdullah Abdullah, both of whom say they are
Afghanistan's rightful leader following a disputed election in
Their standoff has stalled the selection of a negotiating team to
represent the Afghan government in planned talks with the Taliban.
A senior State Department official said the purpose of Pompeo's visit
was to try to mediate a solution between the two men. He is scheduled to
hold meetings later with both together.
"The fear is that unless this crisis gets resolved...soon, that could
affect the peace process... Our agreement with the Talibs could be put
at risk," the official said, adding it was unclear whether a resolution
would be found during the one-day visit.
The Afghan government was not a party to the U.S.-Taliban deal, signed
in Doha on Feb. 29. But the agreement aimed to pave the way for the
Taliban to negotiate with the Afghan government and included a pact to
withdraw foreign troops that would effectively end the United States'
The Afghan government and the Taliban have not begun formal negotiations
as planned, hampered by disagreement over the release of prisoners and
the feud between Ghani and Abdullah.
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U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivers remarks to the media at
the State Department in Washington, U.S., March 5, 2020.
U.S. Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad, who has spent much of
his time in Kabul since the deal signing, made a plea to both sides
last week to act fast on the release of prisoners, a condition the
Taliban have set for the talks.
Khalilzad said the coronavirus pandemic added urgency for the
With 40 infections in Afghanistan, fears are growing that the
thousands returning home from neighboring Iran every day might fuel
the outbreak in a nation with a public health network devastated by
years of war.
The Taliban and the Afghan government held a "virtual" meeting on
prisoner releases on Sunday, officials said.
In February, Afghanistan's Electoral Commission announced incumbent
Ghani as the winner of the presidential election, but Abdullah said
he and his allies had won and insisted that he would form a
(Additional reporting by Charlotte Greenfield; Editing by Himani
Sarkar and Nick Tattersall)
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